I guess people would be puzzled if they read one of the letters my brother has written me. At the end, there is often a cryptic message: "P.S. E-e." In those last two letters there are volumes said about our family, our history, the ties that bind us. About love. And, although my brother writes wonderful letters, that part is by far my favorite.
From my earliest memory, "E-e" was a family code phrase. Roughly translated from heart-speak into English, it means: "I love you too much to tell you in words." I'm not sure how or when it all started, but I suspect the roots lie in the squeal made by a small child being hugged breathless.
"E-e" was sometimes easier to say, and felt more appropriate, than the standard "I love you." Speaking in nonsense syllables seemed to let the listener focus on other signs of love: eye warmth and contact, a meaningful smile, a certain tone of voice.
And, of course, it was a secret signal among family members - a Miller thing - that made it all the more special.
When, at 9, I finally mastered the art of riding a two-wheeler, I was rewarded with a proud "E-e" from dad. And several years later when a date stood me up, Mom soothed me with the same two syllables, softly spoken.
But usually the phrase was given for no reason, no occasion, no special event. It was used unpredictably - and rarely. There was no way to earn it. It seemed to flow unexpectedly from the giver's heart. A true gift. And although no reply was expected, the response was often an answering "E-e," in a pleased tone, which meant "Thank you so much! I feel the same way about you."
When we became teenagers, we kids quit saying "E-e" to each other. It definitely wasn't cool. And then, in what seemed about 15 minutes later, we were grown. We were adults. We were gone.
At a Christmas reunion one year, my brother gave me a hug. "How are you?" he asked. How was I? I was heart-sore, sorrowing. Disappointed in myself and in life. Feeling hopeless. But should I tell him? After all, it was Christmas, the season of hope. Why ruin the mood?
I looked at him. He looked at me. Then he did something remarkable.
"E-e," he said, his voice velvet with tenderness.
My heart lifted. I could feel it floating in my chest like a helium-filled party balloon. I felt reconnected, deep down where it counts. With family. With love. Whatever was wrong could be made right. Life would go on and get better. I was suddenly certain of it. And it did.
Years passed. I met someone who seemed to be the man of my dreams and took him home to meet the folks. When the time came for goodbyes, Mom hugged me close.
"E-e!" She said to me, tenderly.
And "E-e!" I replied in the same tone.
In the car, this man quirked an eyebrow at me. "What were you and your mom saying to each other? What language was that?"
"A secret language," I said. Then I explained.
No one could have grasped the concept faster or used it better.
At the most appropriate times, he would croon, "Eeee-ee-ee-eeee!" One day, he sent me an entire letter consisting of upper and lower case e's. Master decoder that I am, I got the message. I married that man.
Who could resist?